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BREAKING| Supreme Court Dismisses BJP Leaders' Plea To Deploy Central Forces For West Bengal Local Polls

Mehal Jain
25 Feb 2022 7:03 AM GMT
BREAKING| Supreme Court Dismisses BJP Leaders Plea To Deploy Central Forces For West Bengal Local Polls
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The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the petition field by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) party leaders Mousumi Roy and Pratap Banerjee seeking deployment of Central Forces in the West Bengal local polls.A bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant dismissed the special leave petition filed against the decision of the Calcutta High Court which had declined to...

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the petition field by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) party leaders Mousumi Roy and Pratap Banerjee seeking deployment of Central Forces in the West Bengal local polls.

A bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Surya Kant dismissed the special leave petition filed against the decision of the Calcutta High Court which had declined to issue directions for the deployment of central forces for the upcoming elections to to the remaining 108 municipalities of West Bengal which is scheduled to take place on February 27.

On Wednesday a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court had directed the State Election Commission (SEC) to assess the ground situation by collecting information in respect of the conditions prevailing in each of the Municipalities and hold a joint meeting with the Home Secretary of the State and the Director General and Inspector General of the Police within 24 hours in order to take a decision with respect to the deployment of central paramilitary forces.

Pertinently, the High Court had underscored that in the event it is decided that central forces will not be deployed then the State Election Commissioner would be held personally liable to ensure that no violence takes place and that there is peaceful conduct of elections.

On Friday, Senior Advocate PS Patwalia, appearing for the petitioner, argued before the Supreme Court bench that there were widespread reports of violence during the previous phases of elections. Although a full day hearing of the matter was held before the High Court, the High Court refused to pass orders for deployment of the central forces and remitted the matter to the State Election Commission.

He alleged that the State Election Commission was biased towards the ruling party All Indian Trinamool Congress. "The SEC relies on the news paper "Joy Bangla" the official news paper of the Trinamool Congress. We had placed on record the reports of The Hindu, the New India Express etc about the violence", Patwalia submitted.

The senior counsel further submitted that the High Court agreed with the petitioners' submissions, it "stopped short of ordering deployment of central forces".

"Incidents have been reported in the media of false voting, law and order situation has arisen, this was not a stray incident, the elections have been plagued with violence- when the candidate for BJP raised protest against the presence of TMC members inside the booth, that BJP candidate was threatened with dire consequences, widespread instances of protest, rigging, false voting. Votes have been cast by dead people- Mukhopadhyaya, legendary Rabindra Sangeet singer whose vote has been cast has already died in December 2018. The state's reply is very interesting. They say false, false, false, denied, denied, denied, denied, that the Instant application is completely motivated, that it is liable to be dismissed with exemplary cost, that there were no incident of violence, that no complaint was received, that they have not come with clean hands!", he continued

"We pointed out there were five instances to show that the state election commission was perhaps leaning in favour of the state government.-No application of mind by the State election commission in pursuance of 10 February order. We said that there are two schemes of the state government which were stopped and which have now been allowed to continue. In those schemes they are giving title deeds of land, various other benefits and therefore this also has wrongly been done; we have said one municipal council is a particularly sensitive municipal council as it is in the Nandigram where the Hon'ble CM had contested and lost. The election commission surprisingly passes an order one day before our application was to come up that the EVM in that municipality will not have a seal. This order is impossible to understand! The election commission in its response relied upon a newspaper which is the official newspaper of the TMC to say there is no violence. We placed on record the Hindu, telegram, Indian express which all consistently said there was grave violence. Hindu says violence in West Bengal is well known and nothing has changed!", urged Mr. Patwalia

"Till yesterday evening, we were told some decision has been taken not to deploy paramilitary forces but no order was given to us. Just now as the hearing has started, one page has been received by us from the West Bengal police department bearing a date of 25 February 2022. It is addressed to the secretary West Bengal State election commission and signed by the Director general and inspector general of police, Law and order. What it says is that pursuant to various instructions of the West Bengal State election commission, deployment of forces for election to be held on 27th February has been enhanced and total deployment of officers forces for election is at 44,000. This is still not a communication which gives any idea as to whether central force is required or not. There is no such decision conveyed so far!", insisted Mr. Patwalia.

The bench, after a brief conference among the judges, decided to dismiss the petition.

Thereafter, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the UOI, advanced, "Your Lordships have decided not to entertain this. But in the Tripura elections matter, the Court had asked if the government can do something. I may submit that we have no problems in deploying the forces"
Justice Chandrachud said, "Thank you, Mr. Solicitor", and called the next item on board.

The bench however said that it was not inclined to interfere with the High Court order and proceeded to dismiss the petition.

It may be noted that the High Court in the impugned judgment had dismissed the reliance placed by the on the Supreme Court judgment in All India Trinamool Congress v. State of Tripura. The High Court had stated that in that particular case after considering the ground situation, a decision had already been taken to deploy the paramilitary forces and subsequently the issue was only to provide additional companies of CRPF. However, in the instant case, the Election Commission is yet to take the decision to deploy the paramilitary forces after assessing the ground situation, the High Court had highlighted further.

Background 

The BJP had alleged before the High Court that large scale violence and rigging of votes took place during the recently conducted municipal elections in West Bengal and accordingly sought for deployment of central forces for the upcoming elections to the remaining 108 municipalities.

Elections to four municipal corporations – Siliguri, Bidhannagar, Asansol and Chandernagore took place on February 12. Polls to these four municipal corporations were postponed at the instructions of the High Court considering the spike in COVID-19 infections a couple of weeks ago.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj of the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday had directed the State Election Commission to hold a joint meeting with the Home Secretary of the State, Inspector General of Police and other officials within 24 hours and decide as to whether deployment of central paramilitary forces will be required for the peaceful conduct of the upcoming elections to the 108 municipalities.

Opining that the State Election Commissioner will be personally liable if violence takes place, the High Court had further ruled,

"If the Commissioner, State Election Commission takes the decision not to deploy the paramilitary forces, then he will be personally liable to ensure no violence takes place and free, fair and fearless elections take place in the municipality where paramilitary forces are not".

The High Court had also noted that although it has been alleged that BJP candidates have been prevented from filing their nomination papers however neither the names of those candidates have been disclosed nor have their supporting affidavits been filed. It had been further averred that in respect of the already concluded elections to 4 municipalities, conflicting material has been placed on record about the alleged violence.

The High Court had also observed that given the nature of allegations in the petition, the SEC should appoint impartial officers of the IAS cadre as observers.

The High Court had earlier directed the State Election Commission to hold a joint meeting with the Chief Secretary and Home Secretary of the State as well as the Director General and Inspector General of Police within 12 hours and decide as to whether deployment of central paramilitary forces will be required for the peaceful conduct of the recently concluded elections to the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation which took place on February 12. 

Opining that the Commissioner of the State Election Commission will be held personally liable to ensure that no violence takes place, the Court had further directed, "In case, if the Commissioner, State Election Commission forms an opinion that deployment of the paramilitary forces during Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation election is not necessary, then he will be personally liable to ensure that no violence takes place and free, fearless and peaceful elections are held in Bidhannagar." The State Election Commission had subsequently decided to not deploy central forces for the elections to the 4 municipal corporations.

It may be noted that the High Court in December 2021 had dismissed an appeal moved by the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) against a Single Bench order of the High Court wherein BJP's plea seeking deployment of Central Forces for the Kolkata Municipal Elections had been declined. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation Elections took place on December 19.

The Supreme Court had earlier refused to entertain such a plea by the BJP seeking deployment of Central Forces for the Kolkata Municipal Elections, by asking the party to approach the Calcutta High Court for such a relief. "We cannot take decisions with respect to the requirement of Central force. High Court will be in a better position to know the situation", the bench comprising Justices L Nagesara Rao and BR Gavai of the Supreme Court had told Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, who was appearing for the BJP.

Case Title: Pratap Banerjee and Anr v. State of West Bengal

Click Here To Read/Download Order 



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